Walter Panknin (1898 -1977) and His Family Ch6 Part 27

Papa’s Shocking Letter from Home

Biene wrote this post.

One day, we were all supposed to write a postcard home. I wrote a desperate plea to my parents to come and get me as soon as possible. A few days later, I received a letter from my father.  I eagerly opened this welcome message from home with joyful anticipation. But what my father wrote to me seemed to top off all the bullying I had endured. Instead of comforting words, my father wrote what he may have thought to be a witty  “dissertation.” He explained the linguistic origin of the German words ‘dämlich’ and ‘herrlich,’  roughly translated as ‘dumb’ and ‘masterful.’   Unfortunately, the allusions and fine points of his linguistic examinations are lost in translation.  There are no equivalents in the English language. He told me that the word “dumb” derives from the word “dame.”  On the other hand, “masterful” or “manly” originates from master or man,  and ‘Herrlich’  also has the connotation of wonderful or glorious.

Extract of Papa’s Letter in German (1956)

I could not finish reading my father’s letter because tears of shame and disappointment blinded my vision.  But miraculously, my pain was short-lived.  A supervisor approached me and told me I had a visitor waiting for me in the main office.  When we entered, there was my beloved mother!  It seemed like a miracle. She had made the long and costly trip by bus and train to see me against my father’s advice. I was overjoyed.  We spent the beautiful afternoon together walking in the forest and talking.  I unburdened my heart, and she listened with empathy.   When evening approached, she gave me the choice of going back home with her or staying for the remainder of the vacation.

One thing my father’s letter had accomplished. It stirred up my pride and courage. I was going to show him that I was not that ‘dumb’  weak ‘dame’  intimidated by the ‘wonderful masters.’ I would not give him the satisfaction of proving his point. I decided to stay.I enjoyed the remainder of my time at the youth camp. I learned to ignore verbal assaults and not take them personally. I avoided playing unsupervised games with rough boys and sought out the company of friendly girls.  I also noticed that the supervisors intervened more readily when they saw inappropriate behaviours. Maybe due to my mother’s visit, they were more vigilant.

Summer camp, in many respects, was a great learning experience for me and made me stronger. Thanks to my mother’s love, I felt happy and relieved that I did not quit or give in to fears and feelings of insecurity.  In retrospect, I also appreciate my father’s words.  Although it was not so obvious,  he acted out of concern for me.  He knew that by taunting me, I would rise to the challenge.   In his words, I learned to  ‘master’ my fears.

9 thoughts on “Walter Panknin (1898 -1977) and His Family Ch6 Part 27

  1. Die Reaktion Deines Vaters finde ich sehr hart,Biene! Wenn ein Kind sich um Hilfe an seine Eltern wendet, sollte es nicht noch verspottet werden. Ich denke eher, durch Deine Mutter hast Du die Kraft erhalten,weiter durchzuhalten. Ihr habt sehr viel durchmachen müssen als Kinder. Es tut mir immer wieder leid, das zu lesen. Ich finde, Ihr seid immer sehr tapfer gewesen!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your parents both showed their love in different ways. I am sure your mother’s visit made the greatest impression on you. Sometimes, your father’s approach works but both of your parents together, helped you grow through a hard time.


  3. Ich gewann die Kraft in Claustal-Zellerfeld, dem Bundesbahnheim für Kinder von Bundesbahnbeamten alleine, denn meine Mutter kam nicht. Ich war stolz, das Lebensfeindliche dort als Kind zu meistern.
    Die Eigenständigkeit ging aber leiderverloren, als ich nach 6 Wochen nachhause zurückkehrte.


  4. That was an awful letter! As you said, it made you stronger. But how strong do we have to be? There are other ways to achieve the same goals, but in those days, your father’s way was more widespread than it would be today. Thanks for sharing this.


  5. It is fascinating to see how sexist attitudes are buried in our use of language. Do you know that now (at least in the US) the term master bedroom has been replaced with main or primary bedroom because of the sexist (and slave-owner) connotation of “master”? So glad your mother came to comfort you and give you what you needed to enjoy the rest of the time at camp.


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